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Tuesday, 31 May 2022

How to boost your immune system

A healthy immune system is key when it comes to overall wellbeing. Here are some tips to strengthen your immune system.

A strong immune system means that you’re less likely to get sick. But, if you do, it gives your body a stronger chance of fighting off harmful pathogens (organisms that cause disease). So let’s get down to business – here are five tips for a healthy immune system:

1. Gut health is wealth

Gut health is directly linked to our overall wellbeing, with 70% of the body’s immune cells living in the gut – so we guess you could say it’s a pretty big deal! It affects the body from the moment your life begins, as it’s in control of your digestive, immune, and central nervous systems, to name a few.

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms (mainly bacteria), which live in the intestinal tract. These bacteria and immune cells are in constant communication, especially when the body recognises and needs to protect itself against a threat.

So, how can you give your gut the VIP treatment? Probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that maintain or improve the good bacteria in your body. You can find probiotics in yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, supplements, and more. Prebiotics are plant fibres that act as food for microflora. Prebiotics can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soybeans, and more.

Although research on the effectiveness of probiotic supplements is mixed, people who have low gut health or a poor diet could see some benefits. One quick and easy way to improve your gut health is to increase prebiotics in your diet, aka…

2. Maximise your fruit and veg intake

Five a day – we see you and we raise you! Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great way to improve your gut and immune health. Fruits and vegetables are stellar sources of vitamin C, which is an essential micronutrient that supports immune cell function.

Look into a weekly produce delivery box. This is a great way to add some diversity to your diet, gain access to seasonal produce, and save time by avoiding the supermarket. Another way is to add to your existing diet, rather than changing it entirely. There are endless ways to do this, but some of our favourites are:

  • Add lentils and grated zucchini to your bolognese sauce
  • Swap white bread for wholegrain, wholemeal or mixed grain
  • Bulk up your omelette with spinach and mushrooms
  • Use brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice
  • Snack on carrots and celery sticks with hummus
  • Scoop some peanut butter onto apple slices
  • Start your day with a fresh juice or smoothie
  • Grate broccoli stalks into a stir fry or soup
  • Add stewed apples or pears to yoghurt
  • Bulk roast vegetables as a quick addition to meals

3. Pump up the vitamins and minerals

When it comes to immune health, vitamin C reigns supreme. While taking supplements is an easy way to get essential nutrients into your body, there’s nothing quite like the fresh stuff!

Blackcurrants, broccoli, citrus fruits, guava, kiwi fruit, parsley, pawpaw, pineapple, potatoes, red capsicum, strawberries, and sweet potatoes are all high in vitamin C – so be sure to pack your diet with these superstars on a regular basis, because only small amounts of vitamin C are actually stored in the body after consumption.

Pro-tip: Vitamin C deteriorates when it’s exposed to heat and light, so keep your vitamin C rich foods in the fridge, and your potatoes in a dark, cool place. Other essential micronutrients for tip, top immunity include zinc (found in oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, eggs and whole grains), magnesium (leafy greens, almonds, barley, cashew nuts, cocoa and figs) and vitamin A (carrots, dark leafy greens, liver, milk and yoghurt).

4. Go easy on alcohol and sugar

A glass of wine and some chocolate after a long day at work, enough said. While we don’t want you to deny yourself the simple pleasures in life, remember that everything in moderation is key.

If you find yourself with a drink in hand more than a few nights a week, your gut health and immunity will suffer over time. Try having some booze-free nights each week, and mixing up a mocktail instead. What about adding soda water or some citrus to your spirits, instead of sugary tonic. The NHMRC guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol recommend a maximum of 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

Now onto the sugar. Watching TV with a block of chocolate in hand or diving into a bag of lollies when you’re feeling stressed is something many of us are familiar with. Aussies consume a whopping 14 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is more than double the recommended amount by the World Health Organization.

We don’t want to demonise sugar, because not all things are created equal. What we will say is that refined sugar is something to watch out for, because it sneaks its way into more than you think (store-bought pasta sauce, we’re looking at you). Instead of reaching for a chocolate biscuit or lollies to satisfy your 3pm sugar craving, have some fresh or dried fruit on hand to remove temptation.

5. Thirty minutes of movement

Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy. Just 30 minutes of movement per day can improve immunity, blood flow, and lymph flow - all of which contribute to strengthened immune cells (which in turn help your body to fight off nasty intruders).

Take a walk around the block on your lunch break, get off the train one stop earlier, and leave the car at home for your weekly grocery shop – small steps are better than no steps at all!

Interested in Nutrition?

Discover the world of Nutrition through our practical, evidence-based courses. Find out more about our Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) and Nutrition Short Courses.

References

Bressa, C., Bailén-Andrino, M., Pérez-Santiago, J., González-Soltero, R., Pérez, M., Montalvo-Lominchar, M. G., … Larrosa, M. (2017). Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PloS One, 12(2), e0171352. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171352

Carding, S., Verbeke, K., Vipond, D. T., Corfe, B. M., & Owen, L. J. (2015). Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, 26, 26191. https://doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26191

Flint, H. J., Scott, K. P., Louis, P., & Duncan, S. H. (2012). The role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 9(10), 577–589.

Gibson, G. R., Probert, H. M., Loo, J. Van, Rastall, R. A., & Roberfroid, M. B. (2004). Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: updating the concept of prebiotics. Nutrition Research Reviews, 17(02), 259. https://doi.org/10.1079/NRR200479

Healthdirect. (2018). High fibre foods and diet. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/high-fibre-foods-and-diet

"It’s never too late to learn something new and incorporate it into your life."

- Lindy Smithies